Getting to know Parlez with Founder & Designer, Cav Bunkhall
Parlez occupies a unique space among our brands here at The Chimp Store. A truly homegrown brand, hailing from Bristol, Parlez has expanded organically over the years to become one of the UK’s brightest streetwear exports. With a recoginsable nautical theme running through each of their collections, what began life as a t shirt brand in founder Cav Bunkhall’s garage, has grown to be found on highstreets across the UK & Europe, with their roots currently down in Barbados. We got to know the brand in true 2022 fashion, over a Zoom call…
“Back at the start, I decided to buy a print carousel, printing t shirts out of my garage” says Parlez Founder/Designer, Cav Bunkhall as he speaks to us live from sunny Barbados.
“That was where it all started, trying to find another way of starting the brand that was more organic, it meant we could play around with things without worrying about meeting minimums, while having fun and learning a new skill.”
There’s something uniquely ‘Bristol’ about Cav’s DIY approach to Parlez’s beginnings. Keeping things organic, doing it yourself, and enjoying it along the way. This mentality is evident in much of what Parlez bring to us each season at The Chimp Store. Expanding beyond t shirts, to incorporate cut and sew options, premium jersey and a range of accessories with each delivery, that always carry the Parlez DNA that began life on that second hand printing carousel in 2010.
“The early days were a case of just playing around, we got our tees into local Bristol stores, and later into places in Wales which is where I met Will (now co-owner at Parlez). Parlez was selling well for Will in his store, and he said he wanted to come on board and get involved, that’s when we started to try and push it, and make it a bit more real.
We did a tee called the Squared T Shirt, and it was at the height of when everyone was loving old school Hilfiger and Polo. It was our take on the old Hilfiger logo, everyone just started absolutely loving it. That set the tone for the brand and the more sailing inspired stuff that we’re known for today.
I went on to pick up a little sailing boat for £500 from London. I’d always wanted a boat, and thought I’d never be able to own one. I brought it back to Bristol and that’s where the nautical theme that runs through Parlez really became a focus. After that, it became more ingrained, and we kept swapping one boat for another and we ended up with a Dutch barge we’d hoped to moor in the Bristol Harbour, but things got in the way, we ended up selling it and moving out to Barbados for a bit!”
It’s not quite as easy as landing a one hit design that takes off, although this has been something a number of brands at The Chimp Store can attribute to their initial success (see Pleasures and their infamous Kurt Cobain tee that helped put them on the map, or The Hundred’s and their DIY approach to getting their early tees in stores).
“Back in the day it was a lot easier to get yourself out there, and gain yourself that exposure, especially online. The classic days of blogs like The Daily Street, and other online places were always accepting of new brands and wanted to share them, so the building of an online presence wasn’t so bad.
The real challenge was getting our foot in the door with stores to start with, that was the hardest thing. Getting an actual stockist was tricky, especially while working full time elsewhere, you can’t really travel to different cities and spend time building those relationships.
Different people have different views on who and what Parlez is, what we’re doing well and what we’re not. As much feedback as you can get helps with the process of forming your brand.
Sadly a lot of the early independent stores that took on the brand have now closed, but they were instrumental to the early days of Parlez. Once we had these smaller names behind us, the next hurdle was getting larger accounts to take notice.
The big break for us was having our first household name online retailer come on board, as a stockist, that gave us some good momentum. I found the owners name and took a punt - packed up a box full of lookbooks, stickers, tees and posted it to him, luckily it got onto his desk somehow, he liked it and told the buyers to come and talk to us!
Them coming on board as a stockist gave us the means to try new things, start approaching other stores and generally putting more time and effort into the brand. Parlez was no longer something on the side I was trying to push, it was becoming more real.”
INSPIRATION & DESIGN PROCESS
“I like to try and introduce a theme or a story. It makes the process a lot more fluid, if there’s a story behind it, something we can demonstrate through what we’re bringing out. For example, this Spring/Summer 22 collection, with it being the brand's 10th anniversary, we just had to go with a full sailing story! It’s part of what helped us get to where we are today, and this collection is, in my opinion, the best we’ve ever offered as a brand.”
The nautical theme that runs through each Parlez collection has ensured they remain a firm favourite amongst The Chimp Store community. From ever-popular quarter zip styles, to their embroidered hoodies, and t shirts printed with retro style sailing graphics, there’s no escaping the allure of the brands accessible design style.
“I love all the old graphics from the 80s and 90s sailing era. A lot of our inspiration for this current season came from this, as well as the things the sailing teams would wear, jackets especially, that would probably fit horribly today but serve as a great starting point for us to build out our own product and develop a concept that is uniquely Parlez.
One of my favourite pieces from this season is the Tradewinds Jacket - it’s a piece I’ve had in my head for years, and we’ve recently been able to experiment with jacket production a little more, so we were finally able to make it a reality. It’s a real classic, we haven’t differed too much from how these styles appeared in the 80s/90s, and I hope it gives people the same connotations as those vintage styles do.
Something new we developed for this season was the Maiden ¼ Zip - we really took a punt on these, and I wasn’t sure anyone was going to like them! The graphics and collar/zip combo have a strong 80s feel to them, it was difficult to know if anyone would get the context or buy into it.
Finding the fine line between having our own footprint and style, while referencing the things that inspire us and lead us to design pieces like the Tradewinds Jacket and Maiden ¼ zip is, I think, where a lot of our success lies. Everything has that Parlez DNA, but it’s important to pay homage to what has inspired us, while making it our own.”
PRODUCTION & SUSTAINABILITY
Many of our brands offer a sustainable angle, with Afends leading the charge with their entire business built on the use of organic cotton and hemp, and strong Earth positive messaging each season. Bigger brands such as Tommy Jeans and adidas Originals partner with organisations such as the Better Cotton Initiative (BCI) to ensure their product is sustainable and ethically sourced. Parlez is a brand that is working hard behind the scenes and quietly producing some of the most sustainable collections available within our pages, all while exploring new cut and sew options with every collection.
“You dream for so many years while starting the brand, ‘I wish I could make this or that’ and create product that is truly your own. When the brand got to that point, we reached a new set of hurdles - finding factories, and making sure they’re the right ones. That was a scary prospect. Over time, we’ve developed great relationships, and we now have our factories in Portugal that we’ve moved all our heavy knitwear production to moving forward, which is all recycled and organic, with excellent quality.
We do try to bring a lot of production to the UK where we can as well, to cut down on our emissions. Over the last 4 or 5 years it’s been something we’ve been building into the brand, our production and how we bring our products to market."
"We’re part of 1% For The Planet, and that’s something we have really, really enjoyed being involved in. We want to make sure that a sustainable message goes through every part of the brand - not just that we’re giving back to and working with charities, but the fact that we’re making the effort in the first place to make as much of each collection as sustainable as possible.
We’ve gone from 30% of production being sustainable to 75-80% of production being sustainable, organic or recycled. There’s no denying the fashion industry's impact on the environment, and we’re doing all we can to make sure we play as little a part in that as possible. We’re a clothing brand and that’s what our focus is, but at the same time we always want to be able to say ‘this is what we do, and we’re doing it ethically’.
Coming out to Barbados has been really interesting. Charities we donate to through 1% For The Planet (Barbados Environmental and Bio Rock) are based here, so it’s been amazing to meet with these charities, get involved with their initiatives and help where we can. Being a physical help to these organisations is just as important as supporting them with donations.
We’re improving our messaging, but it is true that every time someone buys something from Parlez, whether it’s a customer or a wholesale order, money goes towards work that is actively happening with these charities and others, that’s what’s unique about being here, seeing first hand how these donations help.”
Planning our collections around sustainable fabrics is something we will continue to do with more focus when it comes to future collections. For example, we’ll design these future collections from a starting point of exploring what sustainable fabrics are available to us and using those - rather than designing something, and then seeing if it can or can’t be made in an ethical or sustainable way. Weaving it into our process at the beginning, becoming more conscious, ensures a larger portion of each collection will carry that sustainable element.
A lot of our jerseys are recycled, jackets are made from recycled PET bottles, we’ve got some heavyweight outerwear in the works for Autumn/Winter which is really exciting. These core pieces will still follow this message, with recycled outer and down insulation, they’re going to be really interesting so keep your eyes peeled for those.”
THE FUTURE OF PARLEZ
“This year is our 10th anniversary - we’ve got a big party lined up. It’ll be at Thekla on Friday June 3rd (you heard it here first!) with plenty of big names on the bill - more to be revealed soon. Free drinks, free clothes, so make sure you come down!
In line with that we’re signing off a bunch of collaborations as well. We didn’t want to just release something and say ‘it’s our anniversary’ - so we’ve decided to work with a lot of the independent retailers that have always supported the brand and develop collaborative pieces with them - look out for Parlez x Chimp in the mix there!
Next Spring/Summer 2023 there’s going to be more of a tropical influence coming through, thanks to us having been out here in Barbados. The collection will still carry the Parlez DNA, but it’s important to soak up the influence around us and build that back into the pieces we create.
We know our core product is our jersey (hoodies, ¼ zips, sweatshirts), so a focus for us is ensuring all our jersey is produced to the best standard, 300gsm with sustainable or recycled processes - while still maintaining the price point that our customer expects from us. We’ll be introducing some new cut and sew jersey pieces in future seasons that we hope will resonate with our core customer, those are really exciting.
Shirting is something we’re continuing to push, with materials like ripstop nylon, as well as new accessories and headwear. Our focus for the future is to offer an expansion of what we have always offered but with an emphasis on planet friendly, high quality product, and we can’t wait for you all to see it, and love it like we do”.
The full Parlez Spring/Summer 22 collection is available online now at The Chimp Store. Hit the link below to shop your favourite pieces now!
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